Court Finds Officer Did Not Have Authority to Ask Sleeping Driver Out of the Car in Recent New York DUI Case

Several years ago, I won a suppression hearing in a New York DWI where the police were called to the scene by a restaurant worker who saw the defendant stumble out of the restaurant into a nearby parked van and fall asleep.  Arriving police woke up the driver and pulled him out of the car where he was questioned and made to do field sobriety tests.   The case was ultimately dismissed when the Court suppressed the evidence.  Earlier last month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York drunk driving case discussing an officer’s ability to ask a driver out of the car. Ultimately, the court concluded that, although the defendant was asleep behind the wheel, the officer lacked the probable cause necessary to legally remove the defendant from the vehicle.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, a police officer was on routine patrol when he noticed the defendant behind the wheel of the car of a legally parked car, hunched over the steering wheel. The officer approached and knocked on the window for less than a minute before the defendant woke up. Once the defendant awoke, the officer asked the defendant to step out of the vehicle. After the defendant exited the vehicle, the officer noticed a cup full of an unknown liquid and a bottle of scotch in the back seat. The officer also noticed that the defendant seemed to be intoxicated.

The officer arrested the defendant for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and several related offenses. The defendant filed a pre-trial motion to suppress, arguing that the officer lacked probable cause to ask him out of the vehicle. The trial judge granted the defendant’s motion, and the prosecution appealed.

On appeal, the court acknowledged that police officers can approach a vehicle for any credible reason, not necessarily indicative of any criminal activity. When an officer does so, she can request identification from the person they approach or ask them preliminary questions.

Here, however, the court noted that the officer did not ask the defendant any questions, and instead immediately asked the defendant out of the car. At this point, the court explained that the officer had no reason to believe that the defendant had committed a crime. It was not until after the officer asked the defendant out of the car that he saw the cup of liquid and bottle of scotch.

The court noted that, had the officer asked for basic identifying information instead of ordering the defendant out of the car the result may have been different. However, because the officer did not make any of his observations prior to illegally demanding the defendant exit the vehicle, all evidence obtained during the stop must be suppressed. As a result, the prosecution will likely not be able to prove their case and may withdraw charges.

Have You Been Arrested for a New York DWI?

If you have recently been charged with a New York DWI offense, contact the dedicated criminal defense attorneys at Tilem & Associates. At Tilem & Associates, we represent clients facing all types of serious allegations, as well as misdemeanors, including New York DWI crimes. We have extensive experience zealously and aggressively defending the rights of our clients and take pride in holding the prosecution to its burden. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation with one of our New York criminal defense attorneys today, call 877-377-8666, or contact us through our online form.

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